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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART THIRTY

SERMON DELIVERED ON 04-27-19

       Today we will return to the travels of Paul, Silas and his companions. We last saw them leaving Lystra and travelling throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia.  They then bypassed certain regions they were led by the Holy Spirit to avoid and they arrived in Troas, a coastal city on the east side of the Aegean Sea. I ended the last sermon in this series with a discussion of how it may have been that the Holy Spirit led them to bypass certain cities in what is usually seen as Paul’s second missionary journey. 

       Acts 16:9-12: During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

       Apparently while staying in Troas, during the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."  It’s reported they got ready to at once to travel to Macedonia. They felt this was urgent. So they left Troas that very day and sailed straight for Samothrace where they apparently spent the night and the next day sailed from Samothrace to Neapolis.  From Neapolis they traveled to Philippi which was a Roman colony and a leading city of that district of Macedonia. Here they stayed for several days.

     

       Before we go on, let’s address the difference between a vision and a dream as seen in the NT. It is recorded Paul saw a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help.  We see in Acts 2:17 that on the day of Pentecost when Peter gave his sermon, he quoted from the prophet Joel and spoke of young men seeing visions and old men having dreams. We read in Matthew of the Magi and Joseph being warned of God in a dream regarding King Herod’s intention to kill the Christ child.

       We read in Acts 9 of the disciple named Ananias being called to by the Lord in a vision and being told that Saul had a vision of Ananias placing his hands on Saul to receive back his sight. When Paul testified before King Agrippa about his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Paul speaks of having a vision from heaven.

       In looking at the Greek words for vision and dream and how these words are used in the NT, they both are defined as seeing something but a vision appears to be a more vivid experience than a dream and can involve the actual appearing of individuals that are seen.  Visions are seen to be experienced while being wide awake while dreams are experienced while sleeping.

        When Peter experienced the vision of clean and unclean meats he apparently was wide awake as he is said to have been praying.  When Peter, James and John experienced the vision of the transfiguration, they were wide awake.  While it is said Paul had the vision of the man from Macedonia at night, this doesn’t mean he was sleeping.  He may have been wide awake. The Greek word rendered vision is optomai.  In its various tenses it is found 58 times in the NT and can be seen by context to at times refer to seeing something like one does in a dream but most of the time as seeing an actual entity like an angel or some other real thing. This word is often used to show someone or something actually appearing to someone.

       The Greek word rendered “dream” in the NT is onar and is found only 6 times with five of those times referring to Joseph and the Magi being warned about what Herod was about to do and a sixth time when the wife of Pilate had a troubling dream about Jesus as he was appearing before her husband, the governor of Judea.

       So if one were to define a dream versus a vision, a dream is experienced while sleeping and is cognized at a subconscious level while a version is experienced while awake and cognized at a conscious level.

       Acts 16:13-14: On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.

       So while staying several days in Philippi, we find Paul and his companions on the Sabbath going outside the city gate to the river where they expected to find a place of prayer. They sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of the women was named Lydia who is described as a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. She is also described as a worshiper of God. It is uncertain whether she was Gentile or a Jew. Some scholars believe she was Jewish because she was meeting on the Sabbath.

       On the other hand, she was from the Greek city of Thyatira which may indicate she was Gentile. Since she is identified as a worshiper of God it is likely she was Gentile. A Jew would be assumed to be a worshiper of God and would not have to be identified as such.  You may remember that the Gentile Cornelius was identified as a worshiper of God. Gentiles in general worshiped many gods.

       So to identify someone as a worshiper of God was to identify someone who worshipped the one true God versus the various gods of the Greek/Roman world.  Jews wouldn’t have been worshipping multiple gods so would not have to be identified as a worshiper of God. Worshiping the one true God would be a given for a Jew.   Jews only worshipped the one God. Therefore, because of the manner in which Lydia is identified, she probably was a Gentile or could have been a Gentile proselyte to Judaism which would also explain her meeting at a place of prayer on the Sabbath.

       It is recorded that the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.        It is then recorded that she and the members of her household were baptized.  This must mean that not only Lydia but her family came to believe Paul’s message of salvation though the death and resurrection of Jesus.  After all, that was the basic message Paul was preaching. It is recorded she invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house which they did.

       It is said Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. Yet she appears to now be living in Philippi.  Thyatira is one of the seven churches John is seen as writing to in the Revelation.  There is no record of Paul starting a church in Thyatira or ever visiting that city. Could it be that Lydia, being originally from Thyatira, played a role in starting a church there?

        While not a great city, Thyatira was known for commerce in wool, linen, and dyed cloth.  It had an extensive network of trade guilds each having its own patron deity accompanied by feasts and festivals which included sexual revelries. 

       In the Revelation, Jesus congratulates the church at Thyatira on doing more now than at the beginning.  He then shows His great displeasure at this church for allowing the women Jezebel to pervert the church.  It is generally felt that use of the name Jezebel is symbolic of the infamous Jezebel of OT history who led Israel into idolatry.  

       It is theorized that because Thyatira was virtually dominated by trade guilds, you had to be a member of such guild in order to work.  These guilds all had patron deities to which you were expected to give honor and participate in their worship practices which included sexual misconduct. It is felt that there was someone in the Thyatira church encouraging accommodation to such practices which led to moral sin and idolatry.  In the Revelation, Jesus is seen as facilitating judgement upon those doing these things and promising ruling authority to those who remain faithful.

       While it is possible Lydia played a role in establishing a church in Thyatira it is also very possible she had moved to Philippi to escape the paganism of Thyatira.  Nothing more is said about Lydia in Scripture or any other history of the Church. So we don’t know what role she played, if any, in the ongoing development of the church.

       Acts 16:16: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.

       Let’s unpack this passage a little bit. It begins with the phrase “Once when we.”  We see the word “we” starting to be used in Acts 16 and throughout the rest of Acts in reference to those involved in travelling to various cities to preach the Gospel. In my first sermon in this series on Acts back in October of 2017 I discussed the issue of who wrote the book of Acts.

       I explained that the oldest Canon of NT Scriptures that has been discovered is called the Muratorian Canon and dates to between 170 and 180 AD. This Canon shows Luke to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. I also discussed the writings of Irenaeus who wrote in the second century that Luke was a follower of Paul and indicates it is Luke who wrote the Acts. 

       Therefore, when we see the word “we” used in the narrative of Acts, it is very possible that Luke was on these missionary journeys with Paul. He may have been part of the group called “companions” that are seen travelling with Paul. If this is the case, when we see narrative saying we went here or we went there, it may be Luke writing an account of these missionary journeys which he was a part of and therefore was able to report on events from an eyewitness perspective.  

         We are told it is a slave girl who was making a lot of money for her owners by being a fortune-teller. This tells us slavery was alive and well in the Greek/Roman world of the first century which secular history well attests to as well.  The fact this slave girl was making good money for her owners tells us a lot of people were paying for her services which would indicate she must have had some level of accuracy with her fortune-telling.

       It’s recorded this girl had a spirit by which she predicted the future or a spirit of divination as some translations render it. In the Greek it says she had a spirit of PythonPython was a serpent said to have guarded the oracle at Delphi but had been slain by the god Apollo. This word came to designate a person who was thought to have a spirit of divination.

       As the story goes, this girl followed Paul and his companions for many days shouting that these men were servants of the Most High God who were telling people the way to be saved. Finally Paul had enough of her and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t address the girl as such but addresses the spirit within the girl. Paul went right to the source of the girl’s behavior and once the source was removed the girl’s behavior changed much to the dissatisfaction of her owners.

       Acts 16:19: When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.

       It didn’t set well with the owners of this slave girl that their source of income suddenly vanished.  Looking at this situation from the perspective of the owners of this girl I can see why they reacted the way they did.  If I received a letter from the city of Wauwatosa advising me they weren’t going to renew my license to run Milk ‘N Honey, I would be in a state of shock to say the least. All the ramifications of losing my business would suddenly be staring me in the face. I certainly wouldn’t simply close up the store and leave town.  I would hire an attorney and go to battle with City Hall.

       Well that is exactly what happened with these slave owners. They went to battle. They brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates of the city and accused them of throwing their city into an uproar.  They accused them of advocating customs unlawful for them to accept or practice. They got the citizens of the city to side with them.  The result was that the city magistrates ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

       Now there is no evidence these slave owners got their source of income back. Having Paul and Silas put in prison didn’t result in this girl becoming repossessed by a spirit of divination. All they accomplish was having their frustration and anger somewhat assuaged.  As it turns out, they also accomplished something else.

       Acts 16: 25-31:  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."

       The phrase "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” has over the centuries become a virtual mantra for the church.  A mantra is a statement or slogan frequently repeated and thought to represent foundational belief.  You will see this phrase posted on billboards, church building marquees, in church bulletins and countless pieces of Christian literature called tracts. This phrase has been repeated millions of times in millions of sermons throughout the centuries and millions of more times by people simply reciting to others what is believed to be the formula for salvation. 

       This passage of Scripture is often seen and often used in conjunction with several other Scriptures that define how it is we become saved from the consequences of sin which is eternal death.

       Acts 10:43: All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."   

       Romans 3:22: This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

       Ephesians 2:6: Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

       Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.   

       Unfortunately for some, belief in Jesus is narrowly defined as simply acknowledging he is the Son of God who died for our sins and was resurrected to life so that we too can be resurrected to life.  Well, as it turns out, faith in Christ means a lot more than that and we will address nest week in sermon number 31 in this series. 

PART THIRTY-ONE